Skip to content

Next Big Things 2011: James Blake


Home sweet home: London
Expect: Soulful DJ-producer-singer-pianist phenom bringing electronic music beyond the laptop
Must hear: James Blake (Atlas/A&M), out now

“Keep waiting to be hit by a bus,” says James Blake, sounding like someone not sure what to make of his recent good fortune. The 22-year-old singer, DJ, and producer from North London released his first single, “Air & Lack Thereof,” in 2009. His three subsequent shape-shifting EPs in 2010 made him the most game-changing breakout star in dubstep (bass-heavy, reggae-informed techno) since Burial. And now his eponymous debut album fully combines his emotive, minimalist production with his classical piano training and yearning voice. It’s no surprise to find that the man behind such precise music is thoughtful, opinionated, and somewhat Zen about all the attention.

“I feel completely removed from everything that’s said about me. Honestly, I feel like I’m in a com-pletely different world. I can read things on the Internet about James Blake, and it’s almost like I’m reading about someone else.”

“Dubstep is so internal. It sends people so far into their own heads that when I’m DJ’ing, I get people saying to me, ‘Man, I blacked out when you played that song.’ It’s that internal quality that informs the album.”

“Some of my favorite pianists are women. Along with [Erik] Satie, most female pianists aren’t flashy. Joni Mitchell has an incredible ability to create the most out of not very much movement.”

“Remixing is like musical prostitution. I think it’s really cynical and vacuous; I’m batting offers away like flies. It never used to be like that. Ray Charles didn’t need five remixes. The song speaks for itself.”

“I think you fuck yourself in the music industry. People are fickle but they’re not that fickle. You have to do something that really pisses them off, and I’ve made it clear from the start that everything I do is going to be uncompromising, and because of that, people have been kind to me.”

“Once I’ve made my music, where it goes is not my problem. It might be that some of these songs are radio-friendly, but it’s not a case of having a taste of honey and wanting the whole beehive, to quote Beyoncé. It’s an experiment: How much of my vision can I filter into the mainstream without changing my music at all?”

WATCH: “Limit to Your Love”

The March issue of SPIN featuring Lykke Li